Actually, that’s a lie. Today, I thought it would be nice to eat cake. That’s all. Anything else is completely optional. I’m easy to please, as long as there is cake around.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about cake. This is not an unusual condition for me, but it happens particularly often when I’m feeling frazzled or tired or harried, right around the same time that I start listening to the easy listening station on the car radio and feeling genuinely soothed by it. It’s pretty clear that you need a good night’s sleep when “Peaceful Easy Feeling” comes on the stereo and you almost choke up, sitting there behind the wheel of your Honda with its missing hubcaps, singing a mournful duet with Glenn Frey as you thump-thump over the speed bumps of residential Seattle. It is also pretty clear that you need cake.
The cake up there, the very plain-looking one in the pictures, is not a beauty, but it’s a bang-up solution to the problem. It’s a recipe that I’ve been playing with and tweaking for the past few weeks or so, inspired in part by Miss Edna Lewis’s wonderful busy-day cake. It is my personal conviction that we all need some sort of busy-day cake in our repertoire, and though I love Miss Lewis’s take on the theme, this one, I think, will be mine. It’s rustic and coarse-crumbed, almost like a muffin, with a faint whiff of nutmeg and whole wheat. I’m calling it an “everyday cake,” and Brandon would like me to clarify that, as cakes go, it’s not strictly dessert material. It’s a snack, ideally, something you would eat with tea or coffee, iced or hot, in the hours between lunch and dinner. It’s homely and humble and not very sweet, and it’s deeply reassuring. If you really know what’s good for you, you’ll slice off a wedge, pick it up between your thumb and index finger, lean over the sink, and eat it in approximately four, maybe five, large bites. Pay no attention to the plate and fork in the top photo. I don’t know what I was thinking. All you need is the cake.
Inspired by Edna Lewis’s Busy-Day Cake
I don’t ordinarily like baking with whole wheat flour, to be perfectly honest. I am told that this constitutes some sort of major personality flaw, like finding real enjoyment in making babies cry, but I can’t help it. However, that said, when I set out to make this cake, whole wheat flour somehow seemed right. It seemed fitting for an everyday sweet, the kind of thing you would want to snack on, rather than save for after dinner. I had a bag of white whole wheat flour in the fridge, so that’s what I used, and it’s a great product. I combined it with regular all-purpose flour, using equal amounts of each, and the finished cake has a subtly nutty flavor and a hearty texture, which is exactly what I was after.
1 stick (4 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour
2 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
A few gratings of nutmeg, or to taste
½ cup whole milk or plain yogurt, at room temperature
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease a 9-inch springform pan with butter or cooking spray.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, blend the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. One by one, add the eggs, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla extract, and beat to blend.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg.
Add about ¼ of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, and beat on low speed to incorporate. Add 1/3 of the milk or yogurt, and beat again. Add the remaining flour mixture in three more doses, alternating each time with a bit of milk or yogurt, and beating to just combine. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the sides of the bowl and stir to incorporate any flour not yet absorbed.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it evenly across the top. Bake for about 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (This cake seems to want to brown quickly on top, so after about 20 minutes, you might want to peek into the oven and tent the cake with aluminum foil, if necessary.) Cool in the pan on a rack for 20 minutes; then remove the sides of the pan and continue to cool.
Serve at room temperature. Or slightly warm, if you want.
Note: I store this cake at room temperature, covered with plastic wrap. It’s very good on the first day, but I like it even better on the second. By the third day, it starts to dry out, but it still tastes good.